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EPALE LongReads: Heritage in action for adult education and vice versa

Dr Henrik Zipsane shares a remarkable story of how an open-air museum in Sweden became a home for refugees and people in need with the aim to foster social cohesion.

Ostersund Museum Housing for Refugees.


Dr Henrik Zipsane shares a remarkable story of how his foundation decided to make an open-air museum in Sweden a home for refugees and people in need in order to foster social cohesion.

Jamtli Foundation runs a relatively large museum in Östersund in central Sweden in the region of Jämtland-Härjedalen, some 600 km north of Stockholm. Our museum, established in 1912, has a big role in the building and re-building of locals’ regional and national identity.

Unfortunately, there have been many instances of xenophobia in the region. Most refugees and immigrants choose to settle down in southern Sweden – the number of non-European immigrants in Jämtland-Härjedalen is just 12% while the average national is 22%; but there have been many cases of confrontation between the local settlers and the Sami people, who are indigenous to central and northern Sweden. Additionally, people living in our region have the lowest level of education in the country.

The board of Jamtli Foundation concluded that if our museum is to reach everyone who lives in Jämtland-Härjedalen, and if we want to contribute to the cohesion of all, we need to think carefully about what we represent in our museum and how we present it.

That is why in 2015, when the housing of the high number of refugees proved challenging even for the north of Sweden, the board of Jamtli Foundation decided to look into the possibility of building cheap but good-quality houses on the museum grounds for people in need. In December 2015, the board was allowed to go ahead and start building a small village on the museum site, consisting of nine houses of 54 m2 each and eight houses of 26 m2 each. We called it the Jamtli New Village initiative. All houses, including small gardens and outdoor facilities, will be ready by February 2018.

Ostersund Museum Housing for Refugees.

We collaborate closely with colleagues in Östersund Municipality and the municipal housing company. We expect about 60-70% of the tenants to be refugees with backgrounds from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, as well as some North African countries. Once everything is ready, there may be some 50-60 people living on the museum grounds. After we help people with housing, the next step for us is to provide them with safe and positive experiences. The third step will be to encourage tenants to leave their mark on the museum.

We have three reasons for this initiative:

  1. We want to help people and young families in need of housing in our region.
  2. We want to make our museum more multicultural in terms of its collections, documentation, exhibitions and programmes.
  3. We think and hope that in the long run this initiative will help the museum to become attractive to everyone living in our region and not just people with traditional Swedish background.

The Jamtli New Village initiative can be perceived as a learning process. For our initiative’s framework we use the perspective of lifelong learning to shape, stimulate and sustain citizenship. In the ongoing discussions about the revision of the concept of key competences for lifelong learning, our colleagues in the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) presented the following:


The framework provides the opportunity to define the competences that people will need in order to manage their lives and the challenges of increasingly complex societies and work places. We believe that the framework should be built on principles that define the European approach to competences:

  • following a humanistic approach;
  • setting social inclusion and cohesion as a priority;
  • enabling democratic societies;
  • promoting sustainable lives and societies and
  • endorsing open-minded communities.

Ostersund Museum Housing for Refugees.

The Jamtli New Village initiative is expected to work in the spirit of this European approach to learning. Our aim is to establish an ‘intercultural contract’ between the tenants, the staff and the museum visitors. What we mean by that is an agreement to follow a number of relatively simple principles for building and sustaining good and productive relations. The principles are as follows:

  • The staff grow as individuals and as a group when they engage with our tenants.
  • The tenants grow as individuals and as a group when they engage with the museum.
  • The staff and the tenants grow together as they support each other in realising how collaboration between the two groups helps visitors feel welcome, and therefore contributing financially to further development for the benefit of all.

These principles may seem rather simple and self-evident, but we have decided not to take their realisation for granted. These principles have been put forward by the foundation management – not by any of the partners involved in the realisation of the principles. Therefore, the principles reflect the foundation’s aim and during the process, they may be slightly altered or developed to be accepted by tenants, staff and visitors.

The museum we run is very popular and has a great history as a regional meeting place. Our belief is that this position has to be preserved in the future; in the age of globalisation this will only be possible if we claim that

the right to produce heritage belongs to everybody.

The realisation of this claim is a challenge where traditions and competences from heritage and adult education must work together. I am sure we can fix it together.

Dr Henrik Zipsane is the CEO for the Jamtli Foundation – a Swedish heritage organisation, and co-founder for The Nordic Centre of Heritage Learning & Creativity – a research and development organisation for learning through heritage engagement. He is guest professor in heritage learning and regional development at Linköping University and in 2017 he was appointed expert on culture and adult education by the European Commission. Dr Zipsane has been an associate of the European Expert Network on Culture since 2012 and expert at the European Museum Academy since 2014.

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Your project is very heartening and progressive. As we know, the notions of "culture" and "heritage" are often captured by populist political regimes to legitimize and maintain their power and control. In the process, social history can be mythologized and distorted to fabricate a vision of an ideal state, often inward-looking and xenophobic. Therefore I love your expression, "the right to produce heritage belongs to everyone". This is such an important issue in both parts of the island of Ireland, where, thankfully, diversity is increasing. We could learn a great deal from your project. Thank you for sharing.   
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